Baron Davis turned 38 just a week or so ago, on April 13, and, naturally, thinking of him put a smile on your face.
It’s funny, you’d come to know and think of Baron Davis as the point guard who never stopped smiling; but the first time you really recall him, he wasn’t.
You were just a teenager, then following the NBA and running home from high school at least once a week to see if the latest SLAM magazine was out. Sixteen years old, you were just beginning to become the person you would become and mostly that came in the form of you showcasing what and who you loved. And you loved basketball, so you read those magazines without fault.
You’d read these for the features, the writing, sure, cause you wanted to go into writing but you also “read” them to move to the next step, i.e. tearing off the cover page and hanging it on your wall. You had them all, the AI one, KG, MJ, Shaq, etc., and then on that day in April 2002 the one with Baron. That issue was with both the Charlotte PG and Paul Pierce on the cover, but your choice was never really up for debate. The Truth this, that, whatever.
No B Diddy, bruh. Smiling—well, mean-mugging on this particular photo but smiling everywhere else.
Davis came to the NBA out of UCLA and joined the Charlotte Hornets as the third pick after Elton Brand and Steve Francis—Davis got jobbed, I don’t care what you say GTFO—in the 1999 NBA Draft. As it is with most, his rookie season was less than stellar: with just 18.6 minutes played per game, that he averaged a shade under six points per game was a minor miracle.
But by his sophomore season? Yeah, B Diddy was cooking. He made the 2002 and 2004 All-Star teams, deserved to win the 2001 NBA Dunk Contest and was good for 22 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists in his prime. He was, for the most part, just a perfectly great and excellent NBA point guard at a time when the position’s boon hadn’t yet happened.
You knew all that then, and it was all cool, but your love story with Baron didn’t come until a few years later.
It didn’t come until your Golden State Warriors fleeced, like, 18 teams in a row to bring to the Bay area the core of who would become the We Believe Warriors. Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington and of course, Baron Davis to go with Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, Monta Ellis, the mad scientist, head coach Donnie Nelson, and Andris Biedrins. (A quick aside: you would call Biedrins Prom King ‘cause he always spiked his hair, the same way you would as a teen.)
These Warriors were the Good kid, mAAd City to the current DAMN. iteration of the franchise. (Hey, we’ve all been listening to Kendrick Lamar lately.) You recall fondly those 2006-2009 teams ‘cause you were instantly hooked, a believer. Much like Baron and his All-Star Game snubs in these years, these Warriors have been a little forgotten but their stars still shine as bright as ever in your heart. And Baron was the team’s brightest star.
Maybe it isn’t always true that a team takes after its point guard, but Golden State sure did. If such a thing exists, they played Smile basketball at the Oracle. They never played perfect basketball, and maybe it really was Captain Jack who unlocked the potential to G-State, but these Warriors went as Baron did. And they didn’t always put it together, but when they did they could take on the world.
OH! Baron! Shoves it down! On Kirilenko’s Head!
You were a 20-some-year old then with your ugly Warriors jersey with “DAVIS” and “NO. 5” on the back, and had already developed the character and personality that would make you the man you are today, but you were still working out the kinks then. Much like Baron, who always felt like more than just an NBA player, who felt like he knew he was playing a goddamn game for a living. Basketball isn’t life or death; life or death was what happened off the court, but not on the court. Baron knew he was lucky, so he smiled.
But behind the smile was the story of a kid who grew up with his grandma in South Central Los Angeles and who’d walk from school while dribbling a basketball every step of the way, a kid who eventually transferred to Crossroads where he became friends and classmates with Kate Hudson and Cash Warren. There was the story of the kid who grew up around gangs and gangbangers but who managed to escape, to his refuge and safe haven. To his basketball court.
Davis was beloved in the Bay Area, but he would botch his exit from there; in chasing one big payday at 29 years old, he went from Golden State to his native LA to supposedly make a new superteam with Elton Brand in 2008, only no one had told the Clippers forward who left for Philadelphia.
Davis would (rollerskate and) play two+ mostly average seasons with the then-Donald Sterling’s team, leaving the Clippers in 2011 for the Cleveland Cavaliers as the 31-year-old point-guard stick to go with the sweetener of a first round pick (hi, Kyrie Irving!).
The ebullient player who had arrived in the NBA as a beaming sophomore college player had stayed around too long. He had wanted to chase and capture those fleeting moments of joy but he never could. Instead, he had become the butt of the joke; he had become the salary dump, a fate that befell many an NBA player before and since.
But that smile? The smile followed wherever Baron went, even to New York for a miserable stint (hey, it’s the Knicks!) that ended in the worst possible way in the first round of the NBA playoffs: an ACL and MCL tear in his right knee, as well as a tear of his patellar tendon. You squirm reading this, but Baron smiled.
Followed the above mockumentary “Yes really, but not really” NBA comeback video series, in which you saw the future of your favourite player. Despite the occasional One more chance headline, and the contract with the D-League team, Baron never came back to the NBA.
Instead, he’s turned to videos, films, art, etc., and has started making movies. His feature on your favourite player’s favourite summer League, the Drew League, has generally been considered a rousing success and may or may not 😉 be available for streaming online. It’s on Showtime too, if you have a subscription—though here’s the trailer.
In the end, these pseudo mockumentary-style movies about his NBA comeback are a good microcosm of Baron’s NBA career. There were just cheesy and flawed enough that you couldn’t fully take them seriously but you couldn’t really escape them either. And that’s how you like it, messy and just overall fun. And anyway, there was still a TON of things to like in there and some real moments and, like, have you even seen that smile?!
But now Baron’s moved on, to The Drew and elsewhere. He’s still smiling. He’s rocking the Jheri Curl too, but focus on the smile.
“Basketball is the savior. I would always find my place of refuge & my peace being on the 🏀 court.” #TheDrew
— SHOWTIME SPORTS (@SHOsports) April 13, 2017